Nov 4, 2020
Wisconsin Officials Press Briefing on Election Vote Count Transcript November 4
Wisconsin officials held a news briefing to provide election count updates on November 4. Megan Wolf said: “Any of those predictions that you’re hearing are predictions by the media and other groups based on unofficial results.” Read the transcript of the press conference here.
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Megan Wolf: (00:00)
Great. Well, good morning, everyone. My name is Megan Wolf. I’m the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission and the State of Wisconsin’s Chief Election Official. So Wisconsin’s counting and reporting of unofficial results has gone according to law. Our municipal and county clerks have worked tirelessly throughout the night to make sure that every valid ballot has been counted and reported accurately. Today, the Wisconsin Elections Commission staff will be standing ready to assist clerks as they start the process of triple checking the results. The statutorily required canvas process begins today before we can certify those results. This includes the random selection of 5% of voting equipment that’s used in this election, which must be audited to make sure that the paper tally is the same as the voting equipment. So all those things have to happen before we have certified results.
Megan Wolf: (01:05)
Yesterday’s voting process and election night counting went very well in Wisconsin and across the country. Despite more absentee ballots, the evening proceeded in a very normal fashion. Our election was executed with precision and every step of the process is publicly observable, and I think that’s really important. Every step of the elections process is publicly observable. You can observe election day in voters casting their ballot. You can observe the votes being tallied at night. The voter registration records are public information. The absentee data is public information. Each of the results are posted on the county’s website. So again, our job as election administrators is to follow the law, and what the law says, that on election night, that each municipality submits their unofficial results, unofficial being the keyword, to their county and the county then posts the unofficial results by reporting unit on their website. There is no certified election night aggregate of results, that is according to state law.
Megan Wolf: (02:22)
That is not a process that we made up or adopted, that is according to state law, and we followed state law. Part of democracy is following the laws that have been prescribed by our elected lawmakers, and the elected lawmakers have prescribed this process for canvassing in our jurisdictions. I’m incredibly proud of the work done by Wisconsin’s election officials, and I feel a hundred percent confident in the election that they conducted, and that the laws that are established by our elected lawmakers were followed in yesterday’s election. So there’s no calling elections at the state level. That’s called certification, and certification is a very meticulous, careful process that commences with the certification at the state level on December 1st. Up until that point, there is no statewide aggregate. There is no calling an election. Any of those predictions that you’re hearing are predictions by the media and other groups based on unofficial results. And I just think that’s so important.
Megan Wolf: (03:32)
And I know for so many of us, we’ve spent the last few months talking about this, on end, talking about the mechanics of how the process works. And so I think as we head into today, it’s really important to continue to convey that message, that we’ve all been working so hard to understand exactly how the process works and bring those mechanical facts to Wisconsin voters.
Megan Wolf: (03:53)
Unfortunately, earlier this morning, I may have misspoken about all of the unofficial results being in from our municipal clerks around the state. So again, we have 1,850 municipal clerks around the state, and it looks like according to looking through, again, all those county websites, that every single one of those jurisdictions has submitted their unofficial results, except for one tiny township of less than 300 voters. And they’re working to get their ballots finished and counted and posted as we speak. And so beyond that, we have no reason to believe that there are any other ballots that have not yet been counted and included as part of those unofficial totals.
Megan Wolf: (04:38)
But again, the canvas process, so important. The canvas process is where the municipal election officials double check all the results to make sure that they have the correct number of registrations, to make sure that everything checks out. Then the counties they do the same. So today at four o’clock is actually the deadline for the municipalities to start their canvas process and to then route the materials over to the counties where they start their certification process at the county level. They again do those double checks, all this publicly observable. You can go watch in your local communities. If you’re skeptical about the process, engage, you can go watch the process in your local community.
Megan Wolf: (05:20)
And so then it goes to the county level, they do their double checks. From there, it comes to the state. By state law, on December 1st at the public meeting of the Wisconsin Elections Commission is when those results are certified. And that’s when we will have the official winner, we’ll have the official results of the election at that December 1st meeting as prescribed by state law. And so with that, I don’t know Reed, if you had any other background you want to lend, then we can open it up for some questions.
Sure. Just the only other thing to let people know is that the results that you’re seeing reported on websites, and newspapers, on cable TV, and whatever, those are numbers that are based on news gathering. The Associated Press, other news gathering organizations, get those numbers from the counties. They aggregate them. They report them. The Wisconsin Elections Commission doesn’t get any numbers from the locals until starting next week when the counties start to certify their numbers. So if you’re asking us, “Is this number right? Is that number right?” The numbers that you’re seeing are from the news media, they are generally very accurate, but they’re not official. And we don’t have reports in from the counties ourselves. So that’s just something to make sure that you all know.
So if you want to take some questions, Megan, the first one is from Nick Vore.
Nick Vore: (06:53)
Good morning. Thank you. The President was referring to elections this morning, early as a fraud and saying that they’re “finding votes everywhere.” Anything you’d like to say about that and how the process went late into the night, early into the morning and Wisconsin?
Megan Wolf: (07:12)
Thank you for the question. I won’t respond to that, but as I always do, I’m happy to talk about the facts of how elections work, and elections are such a deliberate, meticulous process where each of our local election officials in our local communities are conducting this process in a public setting. Every piece of data is publicly available. And so there’s no opportunity to add additional votes to the tally because you have to make sure that everybody’s registered to vote, that they have a lawful absentee request on file, or that they signed the poll book where they showed their photo ID. There is no opportunity to count a ballot that did not go through that incredibly meticulous process to make sure it was issued correctly, to make sure that it’s counted correctly. And then again-
… issued correctly, to make sure that it’s counted correctly. And then again, it also has to go through those three steps of canvas. At the municipal, the county and the state level before we have certified results. And anybody’s welcome to watch that process. Some of the places even live streamed their tally last night. And so I think that it’s insulting to our local election officials to say that yesterday’s election was anything but an incredible success that was a result of years of preparation and meticulously, carefully following the law.
Next is Cinnamon Janser.
Cinnamon Janser: (08:39)
Can you hear me?
Yes. Go ahead, Cinnamon. You have to unmute yourself.
Cinnamon Janser: (08:52)
Oh, can you hear me now?
Cinnamon Janser: (08:55)
Okay, great. I just have a couple of quick questions on the canvassing process. So was it 4:00 PM today that the municipalities start their certification or is that when they’re supposed to be done? And when it shifts to the counties, do the counties have a scheduled time for canvassing or are they allowed to start whenever they receive results from the municipalities?
Yeah. Thanks for the question. And it is sort of a cascading series of events and timelines that’s laid out by the statutes. So today’s four o’clock deadline is for the municipalities to begin to route their materials to their county. The county then once, they receive the materials, each county will notice just like the municipality did, they’ll notice when their canvas is going to occur. And the same thing happens at the municipal level. They notice their municipal boards have canvas. And then once that’s complete in the county receives the materials, the county then convenes their county board of canvassers and begins their certification process. So it is going to vary by jurisdiction, by county when they convene those boards, but they’ll all be publicly noticed and they’ll be available for people to observe and engage with.
Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Next is Scott Bauer.
Scott Bauer: (10:18)
And Megan, thanks again for doing this call. Can you talk to me a little bit about provisional ballots? Do we have an idea of how many are out there? And if not, can you give some historical perspective on how many we should assume might be out there?
Yeah. Thanks so much for that question. And thanks for bringing up provisional ballots too. So provisional ballots is if somebody didn’t have a photo ID yesterday, they’re able to cast a provisional ballot under law. And they have until Friday at four o’clock to bring in their valid photo ID and still have that ballot counted. Historically, we have very few provisionals that are cast in the State of Wisconsin. And I know today our local election officials are getting that information into the system, posting their number of outstanding provisionals.
But if we look back historically, I believe it’s been fewer than a thousand in a general election of provisionals that were issued. We don’t have those official numbers yet because they’re still being entered as the clerks are finishing their canvas process, but we will have those shortly. But we’re not seeing anything to indicate that we would have more provisionals than usual. I don’t know, Reid if you remember what the 2016 presidential provisionals looked like?
I wish I did, and I can’t remember it right off. I’ll find it and send it out along with the video link for today’s session.
Good idea. Yeah. But we’ll send that data along.
Next is Emily Davies.
Emily Davies: (11:57)
Thank you so much for taking this call. I’m sure you had a late night too. And I just wanted to ask if any candidates that have their results are 100% in, if they are looking to do a recount? I think the one in our area was the Van Orden, Kind race so far would be probably within that margin. Has anyone indicated that? And can you just speak about recounts a little bit?
Yeah. So there is a whole statutory recount process. The recount statutes say that an aggrieved party, so it has to be one of the top two vote getters. If they’re within 1% of the margin of victory, that they can request a recount. If it’s between 0.26% and 1%, then the aggrieved candidate pays for that recount, if it’s 0.25% or less, then that cost is absorbed by the state. There’s no automatic recounts in the state of Wisconsin. And the filing deadline for recounts, and I just had this in front of me. Reid, I hate to call on you again, but do you remember what that date is?
When you can file for a recount?
So when we get the last county’s official results in, then there’s a three-day window that opens and the aggrieved party or the aggrieved candidate has three days in which to make a request.
That’s right. So it’s not really quite a solidified deadline. Think another thing we can send out with this video is the memo we did with the timelines of when all the certification happens, because some of those deadlines aren’t set on a specific date. They’re triggered by other events that happen in the certification process. So it’s not a set date, but it is three days after we received that final canvas from those counties.
Emily Davies: (14:02)
Just a quick clarification on that one too. So with that kind of Van Orden race, that obviously wasn’t the statewide race, would it be all the counties that were in that district, once those are all in or would it have to be the whole states numbers?
Just the counties in that congressional district. Once the last one comes in, then somebody can request a recount.
Emily Davies: (14:25)
Sounds good. Thank you.
Next is Savannah Tomeh.
Savannah Tomeh: (14:36)
Hi Megan, hi Reid. Thanks as always. I just wanted to ask kind of more quantitatively. You guys have been prepping for what feels like such a long time. We’re in this heightened polarized political climate, and then of course, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. How does it feel to kind of be on the day after so far? And it seemed like everything went smoothly, even though things went late into the night, we were expecting it. Really no big surprises in terms of how things were counted and how the process went.
Yeah, thank you because it really was no surprise. Nothing about yesterday was surprising to me at all. And election officials gave their heart and soul yesterday. Every one of our local election officials, our staff around the country, in Wisconsin. And so I think we’re just really proud of the work that we did yesterday, because I just feel so confident that every single valid ballot was counted in the state of Wisconsin. And I think that we should feel really proud about the election that was conducted yesterday, because there were some really trying circumstances this year. There’s no doubt about it. And I think that we ran an excellent election and I think that again, our local election officials followed every rule with precision and it’s really something that we should all have a great deal of pride in.
Savannah Tomeh: (15:58)
Next is Jason Kelvy.
Speaker 1: (16:00)
This is Jason Calvi. Jason, you’ve got to unmute yourself.
Jason Calvi: (16:07)
Yeah, there we are. Thank you so much. Really quick, one of the things we are hearing is people were saying they saw those numbers stuck overnight last night, those numbers weren’t moving. It’s leading to speculation or going lead to speculation that Wisconsin stopped counting, which we know wasn’t the case. We saw the counting happening with our own eyes all night long. So can you respond to that? And then secondly, why not release absentee ballot counts numbers in real time so it doesn’t look like a vote dump in the middle of the night? Can you respond to both of those criticisms you’re hearing today?
Sure, and it looks like we’ve got a lot of new folks on this call. So we’ve been having weekly media briefings for, what, months now to talk about the mechanics of elections. And I think it’s been a really useful conversation to talk about things like absentee and central count. So not to get too far into the weeds, but first of all, the law is structured to say that when a reporting unit is finished, only then can that reporting unit be posted. Now for most jurisdictions across our state, and again, we have 1,850 municipalities, they count their absentees at their polling place. So my ballot, my absentee ballot, is sent down to my polling place, I’m assigned a voter number at my polling place, and my ballot is processed at the polls on election day with the in-person voters as well.
But in some jurisdictions, like Milwaukee and Green Bay and Kenosha and 39 of our 1,850 jurisdictions, they count their absentees centrally. So their absentees aren’t sent to the polls, they’re counted centrally. And again, this is all a process that’s allowed and prescribed by law. This is not a policy decision. This is something that is allowed under law and is outlined very explicitly. In those jurisdictions, they’re counting absentees for all the reporting units. So they’re not just counting individual reporting units, they’re counting all the absentees there. Publicly observable, you can go watch. There’s challenges there all day. There’s observers there all day. There’s the parties there observing the process as well and involved in counting those doubts, just like at the polls. But with that, you’re going to get the result set all as one, with all the absentees from all the reporting units, and then those are going to get added in to each of the individual reporting units.
And so really it’s a process prescribed in law that allows any jurisdiction, but larger jurisdictions, to centrally count their absentees. And a lot of our large jurisdictions do that because it allows them to do that a little bit more efficiently than if they were to try to send the ballots to all the individual polling places. So that’s why you see at the end of the night, because you can’t break up that central count result set. You can’t break it up and say, “Okay, ward one is done. Let’s send that over to ward one.” You have to report polling places and then add in all the central counts when all the absentees are done being counted. And so that’s why you see the absentees being counted as they should be and added to the unofficial totals after that entire pool of absentees has been counted. But there are no dark corners or locked doors in elections.
Anybody was free to watch those processes as they unfolded yesterday, they could watch those ballots being tallied. They could watch the unofficial results as they were transmitted to the county and added in to the county’s unofficial result sets. All the materials for an election are publicly available to observe as well. Some of those jurisdictions even did things like live streams, so you could watch ballots being counted all day if you wanted to and all night. And so that’s not the short answer, but that is the answer of why you see these large sets of absentees added to the polling place totals at the end of the nights or early in the morning.
Speaker 1: (20:03)
Okay, we’ve only got until about noon. So next is Emilee Fannon. Keep your questions short so we can get into as many as possible.
Emilee Fannon: (20:12)
Hi. Yes. Thanks Megan for doing this again. Real quick, can you describe to us what a recount will look like? Do they recount ballots at a central location or each polling location again?
Thank you for that question. So we’ve had a practice in this. So in 2016, we were the only state to complete a presidential recount as well. And that recount process is actually conducted at the county level. So we have 1,850 municipalities, but we have 72 counties and the recount happens at the county level. So the county is the one that… Today’s the deadline for those municipalities to start routing the materials to the counties, the counties will have those materials. And then in the event of a recount, they’re the ones that organize it. A lot of times they’ll bring in help from their local election officials to help conduct that recount, but it does happen at our 72 counties.
Speaker 1: (21:08)
All right. Next is Ryan Curry.
Ryan Curry: (21:14)
Hi, good morning. My question is about voter turnouts. Have you been able to assess their turnout this year and yesterday compared to what it was in 2016? And how did that affect the counting process for today and the process going forward?
Jason Calvi: (21:34)
Yeah, thank you for that question too, because also an important clarification. So another provision in state law is that participation, so actually going through and recording participation for an election, the local election officials have 30 days to complete that process. And so we don’t have the official numbers in terms of turnout or voter registrations on election day until after that 30 days is completed and after the results have been certified. So you can get an idea by going to each of those 72 counties and looking at the numbers that are posted there from each of the 1,850 jurisdictions to find out what the pool is of voters who participated as part of those unofficial results. But again, they’re unofficial. And so I know some of our individual jurisdictions did report in terms of their turnout that they were seeing in their jurisdictions, and it certainly looks like, if we’re looking at those unofficial results, that we had higher turnout in this election than we did in the 2016 presidential.
Speaker 1: (22:44)
The only thing that I would add is that if you want to do a quick and dirty figure out of what turnout was, look up the Associated Press’ numbers for each of the candidates, add them together, and divide that number by the state’s voting age population, which you can find on our statistics webpage. So that’s how I did it when I was a reporter, that’s how I’ve done calculations. We haven’t had a chance to do it, but obviously turn out as much higher this year than it has been in the past. Ellie Kauffman is next.
Ellie Kauffman: (23:16)
Hi Megan, two fast questions. That town that you mentioned that has less than 300 voters left to count, is that the town of Willow?
Speaker 1: (23:25)
It is ,yeah. The town of Willow in Richland County.
Ellie Kauffman: (23:28)
Thank you. And then my second question is, so just to clarify, if you’re requesting a recount, I just pulled it up from a 2018 thing you guys had put online. It says you can request no later than 5:00 PM on the first business day following the day on which the WAC receives the last county Board of Canvassers statement. So would that mean December 2nd?
Speaker 1: (23:57)
No, that’s too early. I mean, It’s too late.
Ellie Kauffman: (24:00)
Okay, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Speaker 1: (24:01)
It’s after we get the last-
Speaker 2: (24:02)
Speaker 3: (24:02)
It’s after we get the last counties’ reports in, and their deadline to get them to us is November 17th. We usually get them sooner than that.
Speaker 2: (24:14)
Okay. So sometime in… not this week, essentially, Sometime around the 17th?
I think that’s probably fair.
Speaker 3: (24:24)
Speaker 2: (24:25)
Okay. Thank you.
Speaker 3: (24:27)
All right. Next, let’s see where we go here. Phil Rogers.
Phil Rogers: (24:37)
Yes hi. [Megan 00:00:39], thank you. I’m in Chicago. Can you hear me?
Phil Rogers: (24:43)
Would you clarify, only because I’m in a different state, and I want to make sure I understand your system, all of your mail in ballots had to be in by yesterday, and I assume they are.
Phil Rogers: (24:55)
So can you just clarify, have they all been processed now, is some continuing counting still going on? Can you just kind of take me through, and maybe if you know any numbers?
Yeah, so all of the ballots has to be received by 8:00 PM yesterday to the place where they are to be counted in order to be counted, or a voter had to be in line by eight o’clock and cast their ballot at the polls on election day.
But yeah, there’s no late return allowed in the State of Wisconsin. So if ballots were received after 8:00 PM last night, they cannot be counted. The only ballots that still need to be counted is potentially in that small township of less than 300, and also a provisional ballots. So if there’s any provisional ballots out there, those voters do have until Friday to bring their photo ID to their clerk’s office and to have their ballot counted. But other than that, we believe that all of the absentees and all the ballots from yesterday’s election have been counted.
Phil Rogers: (26:01)
Okay, thank you.
Speaker 3: (26:03)
Next is [Naomi Knowles 00:02:04].
Naomi Knowles: (26:07)
Yes, thank you for taking my question. Have you guys been receiving calls from the public asking to check their ballot status, or with questions about the process that needed clarification?
We have been receiving calls from voters certainly asking us, trying to verify if their ballot was received or counted. It does get a little tricky. We made some changes to the myvote.wi.gov website so that voters can continue to see their tracker for their absentee ballot.
But participation, where we can actually say, “Your ballot was counted,” again, our local election officials by law have 30 days to record that participation. So they have 30 days to go through the poll book and record each person that participated. They have 30 days to go through each of those absentee ballots and make sure that they’re entered in as being received and counted. If somebody’s absentee ballot was rejected, so let’s say at the polls, they decided that the certificate wasn’t sufficient and they had to reject that ballot, they would also record that in the statewide system.
So voters won’t be able to see their participation until 30 days after the election. Some may be sooner; some of our jurisdictions that have more resources may be able to start doing that data entry right away. But for others, they may take closer to that full 30 days allowed under statute.
So we have certainly been trying to message that to voters. We know how important it is that voters want to know if their ballot was counted. But each of our clerks are working diligently, I assure you, to record that information, and it will be available on myvote.wi.gov, where you’ll be able to not only track your absentee, but you’ll be able to see your voter participation as part of your record.
Speaker 3: (27:55)
All right, we’ve got time for one more question from [Adriana Diaz 00:03:59].
Adriana Diaz: (28:01)
Hi, thank you so much for doing this. I don’t think anyone… Have you responded directly to the president’s to the campaigns announcement that they do plan to request a recount citing voting irregularities in some counties? What’s your response? And do you track the regularities? And if so, how many did you observe?
So I had not heard that, but certainly I know that our local election officials… Again, elections are a meticulous process, so everything is recorded by your local election official. If there’s anything abnormal that happens, they record it in their inspector statements. And so there’s a paper trail for everything, and all those materials are maintained.
And we’ve had a recount before, and it showed that we have a really good process. We have a really good system, and our local election officials are doing a phenomenal job. And so I believe that that would be the case if we had a recount again in our state, that you would find that we have a really solid system here, and that there’s an incredible paper trail for every single request, registration, and ballot that’s cast.
Speaker 3: (29:16)
All right. So I think that’s going to be it for now. I’m going to send out a link to this, as well as send out some other information, especially if you guys are going to be covering a recount, if we have one, the recount manual is your friend, study it, know it, it’ll really help you.
Speaker 3: (29:38)
And I’ll do the best to answer questions. You guys have been blowing up my inbox. I’ve got about a hundred emails from media already right now. So I will try to get back to you today, and thank you for coming. And anything else you want to add, Megan?
No, just thank you. And thank you for being here. As always, I really appreciate your willingness to engage with the facts about how elections work. That’s what I’m here for, is to talk about the mechanics. I’m like a boring elections textbook with no pictures, but thank you for being willing to engage on the facts about elections, and to bring those facts to voters. Because I think a lot of these things… voters may not understand some of these mechanics, or the laws behind some of these processes. So thank you.
Speaker 3: (30:27)
All right, thank you everybody.